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People In Film | Casey Affleck

Casey Affleck | Finding a Voice for the Kids

Casey Affleck is not an actor whose emotionally intense characters would make one immediately think of putting him in a kids’ film. But for the 36-year-old actor, making PARANORMAN was a labor of love on many levels. In Sam Fell and Chris Butler’s scary, fun stop-motion animated comedy PARANORMAN, Casey Affleck voices the character of Mitch, the amiable high school jock who inadvertently becomes part of the gang out to save Blithe Hollow from a witch’s curse. Affleck jokes, “I had never done an animated movie before. Usually, when people hear my voice, they fire me; so, this was a first!” But, in the end, he found the experience “liberating, especially not having to worry about what I looked like.” Even better, Affleck ended up confiding that making an animated movie was “a lot of fun.” He continues, “Everyone put me at ease. It was helpful to be able to work with Anna [Kendrick, Norman’s sister Courtney] and other actors in the same room at the same time. I concentrated on getting Mitch’s voice right, and having it come together with what I was hearing from the others.” Affleck projected perfectly the unaffected, not-always-bright but quite sweet character of Mitch. For Affleck, working on this film was more than an opportunity to brush up on his voice work: “I go to a lot of movies with my kids, and I wanted to be part of PARANORMAN because this movie is one that both kids and grown-ups will like, which is rare.”

Casey Affleck | A Hard-Working, Working-Class Actor

Casey Affleck was born in Falmouth, MA, in 1975, but his family soon moved to Cambridge, where, despite his proximity to Harvard and its privileged denizens, he was raised with brother Ben by their mother Chris, a grade-school teacher, in a working-class neighborhood. Still, he was singled out early for his captivating presence. Casting director Patty Collins, who was also a friend of his mom, pushed Casey for several local projects. First he appeared in the WGBH public television 1988 adaptation of Lanford Wilson’s play Lemon Sky, in which he played Kevin Bacon’s stepbrother. Next the fledgling actor was cast as the young Bobby Kennedy in the 1990 ABC miniseries The Kennedys of Massachusetts. Despite these opportunities, Affleck had not fully caught the acting bug. As he told Boston Magazine, “I don't know if we were really acting…My mother was really supportive. But we didn't really care that much about it other than it was a day off from school and 20 bucks.” What really inspired him was a teacher, Gerry Speca, at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Boston that both he, his brother Ben, and their friend Matt Damon were taught by growing up. Affleck later recounted to hello! Magazine, “Anybody who walked into his class wanted to be an actor, he just turned them on to the beauty of it. I owe him everything." Indeed, Affleck was so inspired that after high school, rather than continuing on to college, as his mother wanted, he packed his bags and headed for Los Angeles to give this acting thing a chance.

Casey Affleck | A Good-Looking Scrappy Actor

In 1993, Casey Affleck joined legions of other young hopeful actors by moving to Los Angeles to start an acting career. In Boston Magazine, Affleck recalled how tough that first year was: “I got an agent, but it was all Saved By the Bell auditions. So I was getting pretty discouraged and the year had almost passed … 'If I don't get a job, I'll go to school,' which my mother was pressuring me to do. I got a job as a busboy at some restaurant in Pasadena, and I had an audition every two weeks for some bad TV show. It kind of sucked.” Despite such disappointments, Affleck persisted, and, as if by accident, everything changed. He told Index Magazine how his roommate at the time, his old friend and fellow aspiring actor Matt Damon, suggested he try out for a Gus Van Sant film, “Because the story was about Pam Smart and set in New England, and we knew those kinds of kids and high schools and the whole accent and style. So I went in and did a bunch of call backs.” Cast as the tough kid Russell Hinds in To Die For, Affleck was remembered by director Gus Van Sant to Boston Magazine as “a scrappy Boston street kid. ...I thought that was one of the main things about him. That, and his good looks.” The film provided a turning point for Affleck, in many ways. Not only did it confirm his belief in himself as a serious actor, but cemented relationships, both personal and professional, that would help guide his future. One was with director Van Sant, with whom Affleck would continue to collaborate over the years. The other was with fellow actor Joaquin Phoenix, who would not only continue to be a lifelong friend but would become his brother-in-law in 2006, when Affleck married his sister, Summer Phoenix.

Casey Affleck | Making His Own Way

In 1995, Casey Affleck shifted gears, putting Hollywood in his rearview mirror by heading to college. He first enrolled at George Washington University, then Columbia University, studying a range of subjects from politics to physics. Despite his strong intellectual aptitude, the lure of acting – made all the stronger by Gus Van Sant offering him a role in a film written by his brother Ben and their good friend Matt Damon – proved too strong. In Good Will Hunting, Casey Affleck played Morgan, the sharp-tongued member of Ben Affleck’s gang. The film, which would go on to win two Oscars – including one for his brother, Ben, and his friend, Matt – and be nominated for seven more, pushed everyone into the limelight. While Ben Affleck pursued bigger Hollywood fare, Casey grew a bit wary of fame. In 1997, he answered a question from Interview Magazine’s Ingrid Sischy about what he was studying with a very tongue-in-cheek retort: “Eugenics. It's all about trying to get people like me not to reproduce.” Other outlets repeated it, but without ever getting the joke. Flying below the radar, Affleck signed up for a series of lower-budget films, like the 1998 Desert Blue, in which he plays an all-terrain-vehicle racer alongside Kate Hudson; Risa Bramon Garcia’s New Year’s Eve ensemble comedy 200 Cigarettes, in which he's a punk rocker; and Lisa Krueger’s 2000 Committed, for which The AV Club singled out his performance (and him) as “ever-watchable.” Often cast in supporting parts or in an ensemble cast, his skills as a team player would pay off in 2001 when he appeared in an epic ensemble thriller.

Casey Affleck | Making the Outsider In

When Steven Soderbergh was putting together his dream team for his remake Ocean’s Eleven – not unlike George Clooney's Danny Ocean pulling together his crew in the film – he tapped Affleck to play alongside Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia and Matt Damon. The film’s massive commercial success – which in turn launched Oceans 12 (2004) and Oceans 13 (2007), both of which included Affleck – demonstrated the young actor’s commercial appeal. The next year, he joined forces with two old friends, director Gus Van Sant and Matt Damon, to co-write and star in the sparse, Bela Tarr-influenced Gerry, a film that Manohla Dargis enthusiastically described in her Los Angeles Times review as “a tough, vigorous exercise in cinematic form and pure aesthetics.” If, in previous films, Affleck had collaborated in ensemble pictures or in supporting roles, he now was taking on more lead parts. In the 2005 Lonesome Jim, Steve Buscemi’s tough drama about people on the brink of failure, Affleck played the lead character, a deeply depressed writer forced to return home. The Los Angeles Times commended him for “such a convincingly bleak portrayal of homecoming blues that you can feel a deep, Edvard Munch-ian scream rising up from your gut within the opening moments.” If Affleck seemed typecast in sad sack loser roles, he was about to turn that character into a new art form.

Casey Affleck | Loner at the Top

In 2007, Casey Affleck starred in two movies which refigured the complicated loner character he had perfected in previous films into an artistic statement. In Andrew Dominik’s poetic western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Affleck played the “Coward” with Brad Pitt as Jesse James. In this revisionist history of the West, Affleck makes Ford the essential figure in decoding the cultural significance of this seminal American legend. For Empire magazine, “Affleck brilliantly gives life to this oddball weakling born for humiliation yet desperate for significance.” Indeed, Affleck flips the legend from one of outlaws to one of celebrity and its consequences. And he received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in the process. A month later, Affleck appeared in his brother Ben’s directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, a gritty tale about a little girl’s kidnapping in which Casey plays a private detective personally and professionally tormented by the case. Starting off her review by commenting, “I’m not sure exactly when Casey Affleck became such a good actor,” the New York Times’ Manohla Darghis honed in on Affleck particular genius: “Most actors want you to love them, but Casey Affleck doesn’t seem to know that, or maybe he doesn’t care.” But in taking this loner persona to new heights, Affleck gained near universal acclaim. As Peter Travers raved in Rolling Stone, Affleck “grabs his breakthrough role and runs with it.” For Ben Affleck, his brother just shines: "When you point the camera at him he just makes your movie better.”

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